'Zoolander 2' Premiere: Ben Stiller, Co-Writer Reveal How Long-Awaited Sequel Finally Came Together

Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller in character at the 'Zoolander 2' premiere
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

After a surprise purple-carpet fashion show at New York's Lincoln Center, two of the film's new additions told The Hollywood Reporter the stories behind their scenes.

As recently as 2013, the fate of the long-in-the-works Zoolander sequel that fans of the first film had been clamoring for was still up in the air. While promoting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, star Ben Stiller told The Hollywood Reporter that Zoolander 2 hadn't "come together yet," adding, "We have a script that I think we like, but I'm not sure what's going to happen with it." In a separate interview with THR just a couple of months earlier, he joked of Zoolander 2, "If I wait much longer, it will have to take place in a senior citizens' home."

On Tuesday night, though, Stiller and returning Zoolander stars Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell looked far from old as they kicked off Zoolander 2's world premiere with a surprise fashion show. After members of the press filled a purple-carpeted tent next to Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, the lights flickered, the music began and a procession of models began strutting down the carpet/runway.

Stiller, Wilson, Ferrell and sequel addition Penelope Cruz also walked the runway in character, with Stiller's Zoolander and Wilson's Hansel characters walking together and exchanging looks before turning around at the end of the carpet. Even screenwriter Justin Theroux donned his evil DJ hair and makeup to prance down the carpet before supervising the show's music.

A few minutes later, the Zoolander 2 team returned, out of character, to talk about how the sequel finally came together.

"It was just years of perseverance and trying, keeping on wanting to do it," Stiller told THR. "Really we started back in 2005 with a script and then kept on working at it, 2010 wrote a different script and then it didn't come together then and I think everybody just really wanted to make it work."

Stiller directed, produced and co-wrote the sequel, with Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller helping craft the script.

Stoller said that while the writers worked on the script, off and on, for 10 years, "it took a while to find the story.

"About four or five years in, the overarching idea of kind of a Da Vinci Code-style plot fell into place," Stoller explained, saying that some of the sequel's first drafts were "essentially just a collection of funny scenes."

He added: "With each draft, the best jokes kind of remained behind and the mediocre stuff kind of melted away and we ended up with a beautiful comedy souffle that I think people will enjoy."

As for why Stiller, Wilson and Ferrell were able to reunite for Zoolander 2 last year, Nathan Lee Graham, who plays Mugatu's latte-toting assistant Todd, indicated it was meant to happen.

"I just think the stars aligned. Literally the stars aligned and cosmically the stars aligned and everyone's schedule came together," said Graham. "It was just the right time to do it. They came up with the right script and they were happy with it, Ben and Justin, and here we are. I cannot believe that it's happening, and it's like a miracle."

In addition to Cruz, Zoolander 2 adds a number of new characters, including two new fictional designers:  Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) and Don Atari (Kyle Mooney).

While Mooney is the latest Saturday Night Live star added to the Zoolander ranks, he only joined the long-running sketch-comedy series in 2013. But Stiller was already aware of his work and sought him out to play the upstart designer.

"Somehow Ben was aware of the work I'd done, videos I'd made and stuff, and they had this role and he set up a meeting with me," explained Mooney. "We met, we talked about it and I sent him a videotape and then basically not too long afterwards, it was like, 'Cool, let's do it.'"

As for creating Don Atari, Mooney said the script and "some pre-production Internet stuff" were key in helping him get a grasp on the character.

"A lot of it was in the script, or at least the script told me enough that I feel like I had a definitive direction to go with it at least," he said. "But we were super fortunate before shooting started ... we did some pre-producing Internet style stuff that really allowed me to find who Don Atari was."

[Warning: Mild spoilers ahead for Zoolander 2]

The follow-up is also chock-full of cameos, including one from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who also was sought out by Stiller to appear in the pic.

"I didn't believe that they had the right Tyson," the astrophysicist joked. "There are other Tysons, like Tyson Beckford, the supermodel. I think maybe a PA got the wrong phone number. But it turns out, yes … [Stiller] asked if I could come and support [a certain scene] in some scripted way. And so I said yeah. When artists and producer types want to embrace science, I'm there for them because this is mainstream pop culture reaching out to become scientifically literate. And anytime that happens, I'm there for them."

Indeed, Tyson made sure his lines were scientifically accurate.

"They sent me an idea of what they wanted and I touched it up in the scientific sense," he said. "They had a feeling for what it should be, so we edited it together, but the whole scene is their idea. I didn't come in and say, 'Oh, here's what you should do.' … but I made sure it had accuracy and could work in the character and in the scene."

Other Zoolander castmembers spotted at the premiere included Wiig, Christine Taylor, Fred Armisen, Cyrus Arnold (who plays Zoolander's son), and Billy Zane. Additional guests, who may or may not have cameos in the sequel, included Paramount CEO Brad Grey, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, Jennifer Aniston, Kris Jenner, Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Naomi Campbell, Maury Povich, Connie Chung, Raven-Symone, Michelle Collins, Martha Hunt, Sting, Natasha Lyonne, Milla Jovovich, Susan Sarandon, Tommy Hilfiger, Christiane Amanpour, Nigel Barker, the Fat Jewish and Skrillex.

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